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History of Political Economy 36.2 (2004) 410-412
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The first part of volume 5 is devoted to Léon Walras's life and bibliography. There is his short autobiography, in a version that differs in a few respects from the one published by William Jaffé in his edition of Walras's correspondence. Its details are interesting despite Walras's having presented his life in a favorable light, as he himself admitted. The editors have attached to it some of his obituaries, including the one written by Vilfredo Pareto. A vastly more complete account of Walras's life and economic writings is given by the editors' seventy-three-page introduction. The obituaries are followed by Walras's autobibliography, an incomplete and sketchy document.
After those preliminaries, the editors present a coherent group of texts. They were all written by Walras when he was about twenty-six years old on the same general subject matter, and thus are all marked by similar interests and outlook on his part. The editors have given the first part of the title of the longest of those texts to the volume. The rest of the title, translated, is Critical Examination and Refutation of the Doctrines of Mr. P.-J. Proudhon, Preceded by an Introduction to the Study of the Social Question (1860). With the aid of his father, Walras begins by tackling the hotly debated nineteenth-century problem of the poverty of the working class. He contends it needs to be studied scientifically, using social science and especially economics. Doing so will provide a sound foundation for just and efficacious decisions about the indissoluble conditions of property ownership and taxation, and that will solve the problem. Through considering first the relation of economic laws and justice, and then exchange, property, and land rent, Walras develops the quintessentially Walrasian prescription of the equality of the conditions of all individuals in relation to fiscal policy and civil, political, and economic law, and recognition of the justice of the inequality of their economic positions due to differences of ability and effort.
The following three texts deal with themes related to the first one, namely taxation and property. They are The Critical Theory of the Taxation of Income Followed by Remembrances of the Congress of Lausanne (1861); On the Income Tax in the Canton of Vaud (1861) in Switzerland; and On Intellectual Property: The State of the [End Page 410] Economic Question (1859). In the latter, Walras argues that the creator of intellectual property and his heirs have a temporally unlimited right to its ownership and to the income derived from it. That was an example of Walras's belief in the inviolability of private property. There was an exception, however. Partially in the book on economic analysis and justice and partially in the works on taxation, he expressed the idea that inasmuch as land is not the creation of any economic agent, and inasmuch as rent and the value of land are functions of population and economic growth, land and the income from renting it should be owned not by individuals but by the state; and that the state should finance its activities, not with taxes on income, capital, etc., but with the rent. In those and in the other revenue-raising aspects of public finance that he considered 144 years ago, Walras's treatment is, of course, very dated. No one would suggest that the right way to go about understanding property and taxation issues in the modern economy would...